OTTESSA MOSHFEGH: inner archetypes become novel’s characters
In a 2014 conversation with Lorin Stein, published in BOMB magazine, author Ottessa Moshfegh said, “Each story requires a different style of stupidity. I just write down what the voice has to say.”
Moshfegh, who had five stories published in the Paris Review and won the 2013 Plimpton Prize for Fiction, saw her first full-length novel, “Eileen,” released this week. She said by phone that “the stupidity required to write ‘Eileen’ was sort of the arrogance that I needed in order to get through it, because I wrote it very quickly. If I had given myself any room to doubt this for a second, I would have — I just would’ve thrown it away, and I really almost did. That was part of the process for me.”
“‘Eileen,’” Moshfegh says, is “a sort of coming-of-age story.” Set in the early 1960s, the book focuses on a lonely young woman working in a boys’ correctional facility outside of Boston, where Moshfegh was born. Longing to leave her life behind and escape to the city, the woman gets tangled up in a crime she would have once thought unthinkable.
“The characters in the book are characters that are almost archetypes that have existed in my imagination from a really young age,” Moshfegh said, explaining how “the genesis was less peculiar” for the novel than for her stories. “But each thing I write is different,” she said. “It’s like it’s a different animal, and I have to learn how to tame it.”
Having recently completed Stanford’s Wallace Stegner Fellowship, Moshfegh is preparing to move back to the Northeast.
“I’m not affiliated with any university anymore, I’m not working for anybody, so I can basically do what I want on my own timeline,” she said. “That’s sort of been the goal all along.
“To be in this position is so amazing. Right now I’m working on a screenplay, and I’ve started writing personal, nonfiction essay-type stuff, and I have two novels in the pipeline and a bunch of other projects I want to do. I’m really excited about all of them, and feel really wonderful to just be engaged in my work on this level finally, with the freedom to do that without responsibility — any other responsibility.”
This article originally appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle.